NPTE National Physical Therapy Exam: Ultimate Guide

The National Physical Therapy Exam or NPTE is a licensure board exam for Physical Therapist candidates in the US to take in order to practice physical therapy in a particular state.

This comprehensive exam tests doctorate of physical therapy graduates at entry-level in order to ensure safe and competent practitioners enter the field.

NPTE

Who develops the questions?

The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) is the organization that develops the NPTE questions that are administered to candidates applying for their state board license.

The questions are written by physical therapists with a broad range of expertise and from various settings. Individuals from this selected group of physical therapists range from practicing and retired clinicians to professors.

Each physical therapist that becomes an item writer is trained by the FSBPT on writing the case scenario questions. These questions come from the therapist's experience rather than from textbooks.

The questions are written based on the NPTE blueprint that is updated every 5 years to ensure the most current physical therapy practice. The process of writing questions can take a few months and up to a year for questions to be approved and circulated into the exam.

Newly written questions are peer-reviewed and then tested in the form of experimental questions that appear on the exam.

These experimental questions are mixed in with normal questions but not scored. Based on the analysis of how the experimental questions perform, they are then either thrown out or transitioned into the exam as scored questions.

What does the NPTE test?

The exam tests candidates on 9 Systems and 5 Content Sections. To learn more details on what is tested, you’ll want to review the NPTE Candidate Handbook from the FSBPT.

SYSTEMS

  • Musculoskeletal - Heaviest tested
  • Neuromuscular - 2nd heaviest tested
  • Cardiovascular - 3rd heaviest tested
  • Lymphatic
  • Integumentary
  • Metabolic & Endocrine
  • Gastro-intestinal
  • Genito-urinary
  • System Interactions

CONTENT SECTIONS

  • Evaluation - Heaviest tested
  • Examination - 3rd heaviest tested
  • Intervention - 2nd heaviest tested
  • Non System Domains Category
  • Equipment & Devices
  • Therapeutic Modalities
  • Safety & Protection
  • Professional Responsibilities
  • Research

What is the format of the NPTE?

  • 250 questions
  • 5 sections
  • Experimental questions
  • The NPTE consists of 250 multiple choice questions.
  • There are five sections of 50 questions each.
  • There are 40 scored questions and 10 experimental questions. The experimental questions are mixed in for each section and are not identified.

TAKING THE EXAM

NPTE

What types of questions are presented on the NPTE?

The NPTE questions that are presented are patient scenarios.

These questions can be as short as two sentences to as long as 6 sentences. There are also question types that include an image. The answers can vary between a single word to having 3-4 components or phrases in a single answer choice.

Correct answer

Can there be more than 1 correct answer for a given question?

Despite what some say that there’s a correct answer and then a more correct answer, there’s only 1 best answer choice.

There may be an answer that is partially correct or correct for a different circumstance; however, for each question there’s only 1 definitive correct answer.

Time

NPTE

How much time do I have when taking the NPTE?

When taking the NPTE, you’ll be given 5 hours to answer all of the questions.

Essentially, you have an hour to answer each section of 50 questions. This would break down to 72 seconds per question without any breaks.

There’s a 15-minute tutorial before the exam and a scheduled 15-minute break after the second section.

Can I take unscheduled breaks?

Yes, there’s one “unscheduled” break you can take where the clock continues to count down. During this unscheduled break, you can leave your seat; however, plan on additional time needed to check back into your exam because of photo ID and fingerprint checks. Keep in mind, if you have to use the restroom towards the end of the exam, you’ll want to do so after submitting your 4th section and before you begin your last section.

It’s recommended you take an unscheduled break at the break screen that is at the end of the submitted section. If you take a break during the exam portion, the Prometric site would make a note that an irregularity occurred during the exam to the FSBPT.

SCHEDULING YOUR NPTE

When during the year is the NPTE given?

The NPTE is given four times a year, once a quarter in January, April, July and October. For each quarter, only one day is dedicated to taking the licensure exam with the exception of July where there are two days it is given that month.

Can I take the NPTE before graduation?

Yes, there are 36 states that allow you can sit for the NPTE prior to graduation. To learn more which states allow this, review this document: FSBPT - Taking the NPTE before Graduation

State location

Do I have to sit for the exam in the state that I’m applying to practice in?

No, you can take the NPTE in the state you are currently in for a different state license.

AT THE TESTING CENTER

What is provided to me at the Prometric Center when taking the exam?

You’ll have access to laminated pages and pens to use throughout the exam. If you run out, you can raise your hand to get additional pages. You can also request earplugs and a headset to drown out extraneous noise.

Am I able to write down information before I start the NPTE?

Yes, you can write down information on the laminated pages as long as you have started the tutorial section.

I ran out of time or was in the middle of the reviewing, did my answers get submitted?

Yes, everything you answered was saved and submitted automatically.

NPTE RESULTS

NPTE

After submitting my exam, how long does it take to get the results?

Starting on the 6th day after your exam has been submitted, you’ll be able to check your NPTE results on the FSBPT website.

To learn more about what happens behind the scenes you can read this blog post:

Your NPTE Score: Behind the Scenes

What will I see on the screen?

Your results will indicate PASS, FAIL or WITHHELD. The actual score won’t be shown for another few days.

PASS - You answered correctly at or above the criteria score. Congratulations!

FAIL - Unfortunately, this means you missed too many questions and fell below the criteria to become licensed and practice.

How many attempts can a candidate take the NPTE in a year?

A candidate is allowed up to three NPTE attempts in a given 12-month period.

If a candidate fails after the third time, they have to wait 12-months from the initial exam date. So, if a candidate takes the exam in July, October and then January, the candidate would have to wait to test again until July.

Are there differences between states when taking the NPTE?

No, the same exams are given to all the states. There’s no difference whether you took one NPTE exam in one state or city than if you took it at another state.

Will I get the same NPTE when I retake the exam?

No, there are several unique exams, each varying by a few questions. When retaking your NPTE, you’ll be given a different exam than you had before.

Why is it that I didn’t pass even with a higher score than my friend?

Your exam may have been a slightly easier version and therefore required a higher number of questions to be answered correctly to reach that passing score. There’s a standard deviation of a couple of questions among the different exams.

Would a candidate have to do remediation after failing?

In some states, failing twice would require a candidate to do remediation while others are after three attempts.

After not passing, the state board would advise whether remediation is necessary and what steps to take before sitting for the next attempt. To learn more about what states require remediation, you can take a look at the document here.

Is there an overall limit in taking the NPTE?

Yes, there’s a limit of six attempts total; however, some states have their own limits as to how many attempts a candidate can take at the NPTE. Refer to this document on which states have a limit.

Can I appeal my results?

Yes, you can appeal your NPTE results if you have failed. You would have to contact the FSBPT.

NPTE

Is there a low limit NPTE score?

Yes there is. If you score 400 and less, twice, you are no longer able to sit for the NPTE.

If I reached the limit of 6, what are my options to continue in the field?

In some states, you can apply for the PTA version of the exam known as the NPTAE. This exam also has a limit of 6 times. So essentially you could have up to 12 attempts between both the PT and PTA exams.

What can I do if I’ve reached the 6 attempt limit and still want to sit for the exam?

Some states may have you go in front of the board to justify why you should be allowed to take the exam again after reaching the limit and what steps you’ll take to ensure you pass. Here’s a link to the appeals form:

Dr Rohit Bhaskar, Physio
Dr Rohit Bhaskar, Physio Dr. Rohit Bhaskar, Physio is Founder of Bhaskar Health and Physiotherapy and is also a consulting physiotherapist. He completed his Graduation in Physiotherapy from Uttar Pradesh University of Medical Sciences. His clinical interests are in Chest Physiotherapy, stroke rehab, parkinson’s and head injury rehab. Bhaskar Health is dedicated to readers, doctors, physiotherapists, nurses, paramedics, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals. Bhaskar Health audience is the reason I feel so passionate about this project, so thanks for reading and sharing Bhaskar Health.

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